Join Bill Shander for an in-depth discussion in this video Sketch and storyboard, part of Data Visualization: Storytelling.
- [Instructor] Okay, you have narrowed down your message, and figured out the structure for your story, and you've done all of your analysis. It's time to really sit down, and make sure your ideas will stick together, before you go too far, designing or developing anything, This step is all about sketching out your ideas, and storyboarding your concepts quickly and simply. There are really just a few goals here. You wanna vet and test the ideas that you've come up with so far. You wanna come up with your story structure, that will communicate your data in the best way possible. And in both of these, you wanna move quickly.
Trying different things and failing early, and adjusting and failing again, until you hit on something that works. That third point is important. Sketching and storyboarding is about trial and error. The only way I've found to do real trial and error with this type of work, is to work using your hands, not a computer. In other words, break out a pen and paper, or a white board. Or yes, a drawing program on your tablet. Don't work in Photoshop or Illustrator, or some other design software. This is really about quickly trying things, and throwing those ideas out, and trying something else.
So work in whatever analog way that best allows you to truly sketch. I'm gonna show you an example of my own storyboarding and sketching process for a project that I was working on. I wanted to create an infographic about food fads. I was thinking about calling it Predicting Peak Pumpkin Spice, I had hoped to find data about various food fads, to get a sense of how foods become faddish, and how to identify when that's happening, maybe even being able to predict when the fads would fade. So I pulled a whole bunch of data from Google, looking at when various publications were writing about those foods, when recipes were being written using them, et cetera.
And I had some theories about how it would look. Before I start, it's important to note, that sketching and storyboarding, are two different tasks. Storyboarding is the part where you're figuring out the structure and order of your story. Assuming you are creating a linear story, the idea is to figure out what comes first, what's in that piece of the story, then what happens? And then what after that? You have a series of panels, and the idea is to fill in the panels with the basic idea, for each story segment. You can do this in a lot of ways.
You can literally use comic strip panels. You can even have arrows in between if you want. And if the story can branch in different ways, show that, and explain why that path might be taken. You can use post-it notes or index cards, again putting them visually together on a table, or a cork board, so you can see exactly how the story's gonna come to life. So, for my food fad storyboard, I could've just done a series of panels like this. Or it could've been more involved, and include more details to flush out the nuance of the story more completely like this one.
So for instance you know, maybe I could've told the story like you know, food fads come and go, and I could've shown these very small multiple charts on the left-hand side there, of you know, different types of food fads, and how they are shaped differently, and maybe the segment could've been what do food fads look like, and I could've explored you know, the shapes and what the different segments are, and what the time periods are. The third piece might've been what does the death of a food fad look like, and again, change the visualization, and this is, as I said, an actual storyboard I was working on for an actual project. Next one I thought, was gonna be is Pumpkin Spice a fad, and so I could look at its visual, and compare it to some of these other food types, maybe some that are fads, or some that aren't fads.
And then next of course, has it peaked, again looking at the shape, could be overlaid across other visual types. And then finally, could we predict the death, and I wasn't even sure at that point, during this storyboarding process, of what that might look like. But it's a very simple flow, but I was starting to work through some of the nuances, of how I was gonna approach both the visualization, as well as the story-telling. What I recommend, is that you always start with this high level headline-driven storyboard. Once you think you have the right idea down, you can then expand on the the storyboards, to include more of these details and nuance.
Once you like that 30,000 foot view version. Often this is gonna lead you to flaws in your story structure, and/or new ideas for a different approach, that's worth experimenting. So, follow this thinking, and come up with your own story structure. If you're anything like me, you can't help but think about how you're gonna tell the story, while you're planning it. So you'll be sketching out the details at the same time. So you're picking out the chart types, you're figuring out the wording, and all of the other pieces of your data story. This is the sketching part of storyboarding and sketching, getting the visual details worked out.
And occasionally, even capturing copy ideas at the same time. These are my actual notes from my storyboarding, and sketching of the food fads piece. As you can see, I kept revisiting the chart types, and the story structure, and the data, and the chart types, and the structure and the data, you get it right? I was just going back and forth, as I skim through these you'll see, how schizophrenic in a way, this sometimes gets. The best thing you can do, is to really embrace this feeling, don't run from it. One of my favorite projects that I've seen come out in recent years, is called Dear Data, and essentially these two women who, one lives in Europe, and one lives in New York.
And they are Data Visualization Practitioners. And they essentially spent an entire year, and every week they would agree on a topic, they would track data on that topic, and then pass little storyboards, these little sketches of the data visualizations back and forth to each other via postcards. And it's a wonderful example of taking ideas about data, sketching and storyboarding, and bringing it to life. Great use of, you know really creative thinking about data, beautiful colors you know, beautiful visualizations, and essentially really revealing one of the most interesting things about this process is that, two people looking at the same data, can come at it from very different directions, right? However you're gonna construct a story, around the data that you have, it's not the only way to do it, right? You can tell many stories from the same source, so explore, sketch, try different things, throw things out, try them again, that's what it's all about.
This is what the creative process looks like, okay? It's starts on the left-hand side, right? From one point, and then it gets wildly out of control, alright things get crazy sometimes for awhile there. You're trying a million things, you're throwing out the failures, you're coming back, your taking twelve steps to the left, and then going way out in the wrong direction. Sometimes your first idea is your best idea, usually it's the last idea, after a lot of painful details. But essentially, as crazy as it gets, and as wacky as it gets at times, eventually you start to narrow in on the best idea, and you know, you'll bring that creative process home, so embrace it, sketch every stupid idea you can possibly think of, try things from a million different directions, and eventually you're gonna find just the right way to do it, to tell the story that you're trying to tell.
Except sometimes, as with my food fads project, your storyboarding and sketching is gonna reveal to you, that you have a great idea, and a great story, but your data just doesn't support your ideas. Yes, the storyboarding and sketching process is often partially about data analysis. I find myself going back to the data, testing to see if it looks like I want my sketches to look, like I think the story is saying. And sometimes I'll find out that the story I want to tell, isn't in the data right? Now that's an opportunity to either rethink your story, or sometimes, as in this case for me, you just have to toss out your ideas.
Yeah, it was painful. After investing a bunch of time and even some money into it, I had to walk away from the project. My data was really noisy and inaccurate, and it didn't tell a cohesive story. One day I'll probably go back to it, because there is an idea there, but I was really too busy getting this course ready, to do it before taping. Maybe next year. So, in conclusion, work in analog, use your hands, organize your story structure, experiment a lot, fail a lot, test your ideas every step of the way.
Embrace that chaos and trust that the chaos will fade, as you approach idea Nirvana.
Join data visualization expert Bill Shander as he guides you through the process of turning "facts and figures" into "story" to engage and fulfill our human expectation for information. This course is intended for anyone who works with data and has to communicate it to others, whether a researcher, a data analyst, a consultant, a marketer, or a journalist. Bill shows you how to think about, and craft, stories from data by examining many compelling stories in detail.
- Creating a narrative structure for data
- Applying narrative to data
- Identifying what you want to say with the data
- Analyzing what your data is saying
- Determining what your audience needs to hear
- Leveraging tables, charts, and visuals
- Ensuring your narrative provides context and direction